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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 14, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 17
Making the Deals in Tech Transfer

An attorney who previously was an engineering manager at NASA, Wes Blakeslee joined Johns Hopkins as associate general counsel in 1999 and has headed Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer since September 2006.
Photo by Jay VanRensselaer / HIPS

Refocused efforts are already paying dividends

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Wesley "Wes" Blakeslee knows the art of the deal, and he wants to seal many more on behalf of Johns Hopkins faculty and staff with an interest in bringing their inventions and discoveries to the marketplace.

Last May, Blakeslee was appointed executive director of Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer, an office for which he had served as acting director for eight months.

When Blakeslee took over in September 2006, he focused much of his effort on building the depth of the licensing staff and freeing up that staff from many administrative duties to focus on "making deals." He also implemented the creation of a new information system to manage complex business matters so that the office could improve faculty service and support, its primary mission.

Blakeslee said the efforts are already paying dividends, with fiscal year 2007 being a record year for invention disclosures, agreements and licensing income.This past year the office did $9.6 million in licensing income and received an additional $600,000 in income from equity sales. One target for 2008: growing disclosures to more than 300, a number never before achieved at JHU.

But those figures do not tell the entire story of the economic benefit of technology transfer to the university, he said. For example, one of the largest dollar-producing inventions — producing well in excess of $1 million — is not processed through JHTT because it originated when technology transfer was handled by the schools individually.

He said that one of the "best-kept secrets" is that Johns Hopkins is responsible for a significant amount of start-up companies, which have a sizable economic impact. Since 2000, more than 30 companies have been formed based on Johns Hopkins technologies.

"We have a very energetic and entrepreneurial faculty here, a fact for which JHU has never been given credit," Blakeslee said, pointing out that the primary goal of technology transfer is to bring new discoveries to the marketplace. "We have many inventors who are also clinicians, and their primary motivation is to see a treatment get to their patients."

Technology transfer has existed at Johns Hopkins in some form for decades. In 2002, the efforts were consolidated into a single office. Johns Hopkins Technology Transfer serves as the intellectual property administration center for the university's academic divisions, assisting Johns Hopkins researchers and inventors as a licensing, patent and technology commercialization office. It also acts as a liaison to parties interested in leveraging JHU research or materials for academic or corporate endeavors. The Applied Physics Laboratory operates its own Office of Technology Transfer.

Blakeslee said that his office's name is something of a misnomer, and part of his charge, he feels, has been to market more effectively what the office does.

"We do more than technology transfer. We do development, licensing and commercializing," he said. "I like to say we help advance the university mission of bringing the benefits of discovery to the world by converting our inventions to products that help people."

Blakeslee said that in his world, it all boils down to people, products and money. Johns Hopkins inventors create a product, and his office helps find the people who would be interested in it and the money needed to make it a reality.

The primary functions of JHTT include encouraging the disclosure of new ideas and discoveries, and helping JHU researchers identify patentable and copyrightable inventions and tangible research properties that might ultimately become commercial products and services. The office also protects and manages the university's intellectual and tangible property, and helps license technologies. In turn, the net profit from a venture gets distributed back to the faculty, the school and the university.

Blakeslee, a lawyer with much experience in commercialization of technology and licensing of intellectual property, was recently named by Maryland Super Lawyers Magazine as one of the top attorneys in the state, a peer-given designation that he calls "a great honor."

He joined Johns Hopkins in 1999 to serve as associate general counsel, responsible for the complex legal issues involved in intellectual property matters, technology licensing and transfer, sponsored research agreements, and export and import controls.

Previously, he had been since 1984 the chief executive officer of Blakeslee, Wallace and Associates, focusing his legal practice on technology development, acquisitions and licensing. He managed successful new companies and assisted more than 50 startups.

Prior to beginning his law career, Blakeslee was an engineering manager at NASA.

Blakeslee said that one challenge of his job is the size of the institution compared to the size of his office. He said that peers such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford have many more licensing staff per dollar of research.

Blakeslee said that his staff is highly educated, and needs to be to meet the challenges of dealing with cutting-edge technology. "That is our biggest challenge," he said. "The nature of our research is cutting-edge, but that also means the product is often in its very early stages, often before proof-of-concept. To get the product to the stage of someone being interested, to find the dollars needed, is difficult. Most of our staff have PhDs and many have multiple degrees. It takes that level of understanding to evaluate an invention and to know where to place the product."

In terms of moving forward, Blakeslee said that he wants the office to become even more sales-oriented and to continue to improve faculty service. "We want to be more proactive here," he said, "to have a better understanding of the players and the pipelines, and better position ourselves to get our inventions out there in the private sector. We have to develop a sales mentality. That is the next stage of our development. We need to get the resources, management and staff in place so that we can do our job and do it at the level we want and this university deserves."


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